Tuareg people

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"Tuareg" redirects here. For other uses, see Tuareg (disambiguation).
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Portret van Sidi Amed een Tuareg vluchteling uit Mali te Dori TMnr 20010117.jpg
Total population
(1.2 million (est.)[1])
Regions with significant populations
The Tuareg languages (Tamasheq, Tamajeq, Tamahaq), Hausa, Arabic
Related ethnic groups
Other Berber people

The Tuareg (/ˈtwɑːrɛɡ/; also spelled Twareg or Touareg; endonym Imuhagh) are Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa.[2][3]

The Tuareg language, a branch of the Berber languages, has an estimated 1.2 million speakers. About half this number is accounted for by speakers of the Eastern dialect (Tamajaq, Tawallammat).[1] Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders, and small groups of Tuareg also live in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.[4]


The origin and meaning of the name Tuareg has long been debated with various etymologies advanced, although it would appear that Twārəg is derived from the "broken plural" of Tārgi, a name whose former meaning was "inhabitant of Targa" (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan. Targa in Berber means "(drainage) channel", see Alojali et al. 2003: 656, s.v. "Targa").

Tuareg were called Tevarikler in The Ottoman Empire.

The name of the Tuareg for themselves is Imuhagh or Imushagh (cognate to northern Berber Imazighen). The term for a Tuareg man is Amajagh (var. Amashegh, Amahagh), the term for a woman Tamajaq (var. Tamasheq, Tamahaq, Timajaghen). The spelling variants given reflect the variety of the Tuareg dialects, but they all reflect the same linguistic root, expressing the notion of "freemen", strictly only referring to the Tuareg "nobility", to the exclusion of the artisan client castes and slaves.[5] Another self-designation of more recent origin is linguistic, Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq (Neo-Tifinagh) "Speakers of Tamasheq".

Also encountered in ethnographic literature of the early 20th century is the name Kel Tagelmust "People of the Veil"[6] and "the Blue People" (for the indigo colour of their veils and other clothing, which sometimes stains the skin underneath).[7]

Douglas Porch, in his book "The Conquest of Morocco," posits that the French described the term "tuareg" as the Arabic name given to the Berber tribes of the sub-Saharan region which, in translation, means "abandoned by God."


Further information: Azaouad
Areas where significant numbers of Tuareg live

The Tuareg people inhabit a large area—almost all of the middle and western Sahara, as well as the north-central Sahel. In Tuareg terms, the Sahara is not one desert but many, so they call it Tinariwen ("the Deserts"). Among the many deserts in Africa, there is the true desert Ténéré. Other deserts are more and less arid, flat and mountainous: Adrar, Tagant, Tawat (Touat) Tanezrouft, Adghagh n Fughas, Tamasna, Azawagh, Adar, Damargu, Tagama, Manga, Ayr, Tarramit (Termit), Kawar, Djado, Tadmait, Admer, Igharghar, Ahaggar, Tassili n'Ajjer, Tadrart, Idhan, Tanghart, Fezzan, Tibesti, Kalansho, Libyan Desert, etc. While there is little conflict about the driest parts of Tuareg territory, many of the water sources and pastures they need for cattle breeding get fenced off by absentee landlords, impoverishing some Tuareg communities. There is also an unresolved land conflict about many stretches of farm land just south of the Sahara. Tuareg often also claim ownership over these lands and over the crop and property of the impoverished Rimaite-people farming them.[citation needed]


Tin Hinan Queen of Hoggar (today South Algeria)

Early history

The Tuareg expanded southward from the Tafilalt region into the Sahel under their legendary queen Tin Hinan, who is assumed to have lived in the 4th or 5th century.[8] Tin Hinan is credited in Tuareg lore with uniting the ancestral tribes and founding the unique culture that continues to the present day. At Abalessa, a grave traditionally held to be hers has been scientifically studied.[citation needed]

Colonial era

At the turn of the 19th century, the Tuareg territory was organised into confederations, each ruled by a supreme Chief (Amenokal), along with a counsel of elders from each tribe. These confederations are sometimes called "Drum Groups" after the Amenokal's symbol of authority, a drum. Clan (Tewsit) elders, called Imegharan (wisemen), are chosen to assist the chief of the confederation. Historically, there are seven recent major confederations:

In the late 19th century, the Tuareg resisted the French colonial invasion of their Central Saharan homelands. Tuareg broadswords were no match for the more advanced weapons of French troops. After numerous massacres on both sides,[9] the Tuareg were subdued and required to sign treaties in Mali 1905 and Niger 1917. In southern Morocco and Algeria, the French met some of the strongest resistance from the Ahaggar Tuareg. Their Amenokal, traditional chief Moussa ag Amastan, fought numerous battles in defence of the region. Finally, Tuareg territories were taken under French governance, and their confederations were largely dismantled and reorganised.

Tuareg in Mali, 1974

Post-colonial era

When African countries achieved widespread independence in the 1960s, the traditional Tuareg territory was divided among a number of modern nations: Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso. Competition for resources in the Sahel has since led to conflicts between the Tuareg and neighboring African groups, especially after political disruption following French colonization and independence. There have been tight restrictions placed on nomadization because of high population growth. Desertification is exacerbated by human activity i.e.; exploitation of resources and the increased firewood needs of growing cities. Some Tuareg are therefore experimenting with farming; some have been forced to abandon herding and seek jobs in towns and cities.[10]

In Mali, a Tuareg uprising resurfaced in the Adrar N'Fughas mountains in the 1960s, following Mali's independence. Several Tuareg joined, including some from the Adrar des Iforas in northeastern Mali. The 1960s' rebellion was a fight between a group of Tuareg and the newly independent state of Mali. The Malian Army suppressed the revolt. Resentment among the Tuareg fueled the second uprising.[10]

Tuareg separatist rebels in Mali, January 2012

This second (or third) uprising was in May 1990. At this time, in the aftermath of a clash between government soldiers and Tuareg outside a prison in Tchin-Tabaraden, Niger, Tuareg in both Mali and Niger claimed autonomy for their traditional homeland: (Ténéré, capital Agadez, in Niger and the Azawad and Kidal regions of Mali). Deadly clashes between Tuareg fighters (with leaders such as Mano Dayak) and the military of both countries followed, with deaths numbering well into the thousands. Negotiations initiated by France and Algeria led to peace agreements (January 11, 1992 in Mali and 1995 in Niger). Both agreements called for decentralization of national power and guaranteed the integration of Tuareg resistance fighters into the countries' respective national armies.[11]

Major fighting between the Tuareg resistance and government security forces ended after the 1995 and 1996 agreements. As of 2004, sporadic fighting continued in Niger between government forces and Tuareg groups struggling for independence. In 2007, a new surge in violence occurred.[12]

Since the development of Berberism in North Africa in the 1990s, there has also been a Tuareg ethnic revival.[13]

Since 1998, three different flags have been designed to represent the Tuareg.[14] In Niger, the Tuareg people remain diplomatically and economically marginalized, remaining poor and not being represented in Niger's central government.[15]

Traditional social stratification

Tuareg man from Hoggar, Algeria
Tuareg man from Niger

Traditionally, Tuareg society is hierarchical, with nobility and vassals. Each Tuareg clan (tawshet) is made up of several family groups, each led by its chief, the amghar. A series of tawsheten (plural of tawshet) may bond together under an Amenokal, forming a Kel clan confederation. Tuareg self-identification is related only to their specific Kel, which means "those of". E.g. Kel Dinnig (those of the east), Kel Ataram (those of the west). The position of amghar is hereditary through a matrilineal principle, it is usual for the son of a sister of the incumbent chieftain to succeed to his position. The amenokal is elected in a ritual which differs between groups, the individual amghar who lead the clans making up the confederation usually have the deciding voice.[16]

Nobility and vassals

Tuareg man from Algeria

The work of pastoralism was specialized according to social class. Tels are ruled by the imúšaɣ (Imajaghan, The Proud and Free) nobility, warrior-aristocrats who organized group defense, livestock raids, and the long-distance caravan trade. Below them were a number of specialised métier castes. The ímɣad (Imghad, singular Amghid), the second rank of Tuareg society, were free vassal-herdsmen and warriors, who pastured and tended most of the confederation's livestock. Formerly enslaved vassals of specific Imajaghan, they are said by tradition to be descended from nobility in the distant past, and thus maintain a degree of social distance from lower orders. Traditionally, some merchant castes had a higher status than all but the nobility among their more settled compatriots to the south. With time, the difference between the two castes has eroded in some places, following the economic fortunes of the two groups.[17]

Imajaghan have traditionally disdained certain types of labor and prided themselves in their warrior skills. The existence of lower servile and semi-servile classes has allowed for the development of highly ritualised poetic, sport, and courtship traditions among the Imajaghan. Following colonial subjection, independence, and the famines of the 1970s and 1980s, noble classes have more and more been forced to abandon their caste differences. They have taken on labor and lifestyles they might traditionally have rejected.[18]

Client castes

After the adoption of Islam, a separate class of religious clerics, the Ineslemen or marabouts, also became integral to Tuareg social structure. Following the decimation of many clans' noble Imajaghan caste in the colonial wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ineslemen gained leadership in some clans, despite their often servile origins. Traditionally Ineslemen clans were not armed. They provided spiritual guidance for the nobility, and received protection and alms in return.

Inhædˤæn (Inadan), were a blacksmith-client caste who fabricated and repaired the saddles, tools, household equipment and other material needs of the community. They were often, in addition to craftwork, the repository of oral traditions and poetry. They were also often musicians and played an important role in many ceremonies. Their origins are unclear, one theory proposing an original Jewish derivation. They had their own special dialect or secret language. Because of their association with fire, iron and precious metals and their reputation for cunning tradesmanship the ordinary Tuareg regarded them with a mixture of awe and distrust.[19]

Tuareg peasants

The people who farm oases in Tuareg-dominated areas form a distinct group known as izeggaghan (or hartani in Arabic). Their origins are unclear but they often speak both Tuareg dialects and Arabic, though a few communities are Songhay speakers. Traditionally they worked land owned by a Tuareg noble or vassal family, being allowed to keep a fifth part of their produce. Their Tuareg patrons were usually responsible for supplying agricultural tools, seed and clothing.[20]

Bonded castes and slaves

Like other major ethnic groups in West Africa, the Tuareg once held slaves (éklan / Ikelan in Tamasheq, Bouzou in Hausa, Bella in Songhai); however, the Tuareg even in present-day still maintain the practice of slavery.[21][22] The slaves called éklan once formed a distinct social class in Tuareg society. Eklan formed distinct sub-communities; they were a class held in an inherited serf-like condition, common among societies in precolonial West Africa.[citation needed]

When French colonial governments were established, they passed legislation to abolish slavery, but did not enforce it. Some commentators believe the French interest was directed more at dismantling the traditional Tuareg political economy, which depended on slave labor for herding, than at freeing the slaves.[23][24][25][26] Historian Martin Klein reports that there was a large scale attempt by French West African authorities to liberate slaves and other bonded castes in Tuareg areas following the 1914–1916 Firouan revolt.[27] Despite this, French officials following the Second World War reported there were some 50,000 "Bella" under direct control of Tuareg masters in the Gao–Timbuktu areas of French Soudan alone.[28] This was at least four decades after French declarations of mass freedom had happened in other areas of the colony. In 1946, a series of mass desertions of Tuareg slaves and bonded communities began in Nioro and later in Menaka, quickly spreading along the Niger River valley.[29] In the first decade of the 20th century, French administrators in southern Tuareg areas of French Sudan estimated "free" to "servile" Tuareg populations at ratios of 1 to 8 or 9.[30] At the same time the servile "rimaibe" population of the Masina Fulbe, roughly equivalent to the Bella, made up between 70% to 80% of the Fulbe population, while servile Songhai groups around Gao made up some 2/3 to 3/4 of the total Songhai population.[30] Klein concludes that roughly 50% of the population of French Soudan at the beginning of the 20th century were in some servile or slave relationship.[30]

While post-independence states have sought to outlaw slavery, results have been mixed. Traditional caste relationships have continued in many places, including the institution of slavery.[31][32][33][34][35][36] According to the Travel Channel show, Bob Geldof in Africa, the descendants of those slaves known as the Bella are still slaves in all but name. In Niger, where the practice of slavery was outlawed in 2003, a study found that almost 8% of the population are still enslaved.[37] In the country of Mali, many slaves held by the Tuareg were liberated during 2013-14 when French troops intervened on behalf of the Malian government against Islamic radicals with whom the Tuareg were allied during their attempt at secession.[38][39]


Tuareg nomads in the south of Algeria
Further information: Matrilineality § Tuareg

The Tuareg are largely matrilineal.[40][41][42] Tuareg women have high status compared with their Arab counterparts (for further information see the Tuareg section of the Matrilineality article). Other distinctive aspects of Tuareg culture include clothing, food, language, religion, arts, astronomy, nomadic architecture, traditional weapons, music, films, games, and economic activities.


In Tuareg society women do not traditionally wear the veil, whereas men do.[40][42] The most famous Tuareg symbol is the Tagelmust (also called éghéwed), referred to as a Cheche (pronounced "Shesh"), an often indigo blue-colored veil called Alasho. The men's facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits. It may have related instrumentally from the need for protection from the harsh desert sands as well. It is a firmly established tradition, as is the wearing of amulets containing sacred objects and, recently, verses from the Qur'an. Taking on the veil is associated with the rite of passage to manhood; men begin wearing a veil when they reach maturity. The veil usually conceals their face, excluding their eyes and the top of the nose.

Tuareg woman from Mali
Tuareg children in Mali, 2008

The Tuareg are sometimes called the "Blue People" because the indigo pigment in the cloth of their traditional robes and turbans stained their skin dark blue.[7] The traditional indigo turban is still preferred for celebrations, and generally Tuareg wear clothing and turbans in a variety of colors.


Taguella is a flat bread made from millet, a grain, which is cooked on charcoals in the sand and eaten with a heavy sauce. Millet porridge is a staple much like ugali and fufu. Millet is boiled with water to make a pap and eaten with milk or a heavy sauce. Common dairy foods are goat's and camel's milk, as well as cheese and yogurt made from them. Eghajira is a thick beverage drunk with a ladle. It is made by pounding millet, goat cheese, dates, milk and sugar and is served on festivals like Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. In the Maghreb, a popular tea called "atai" or "ashay" is made from Gunpowder Green Tea with a handful of fresh mint sprigs and several cubes of sugar. After steeping, it is poured three times in and out of the tea pot over the tea, mint and sugar and served by pouring from a height of over a foot into small tea glasses with a froth on top.


Main article: Tuareg languages

The Tuareg speak Tamajaq/Tamasheq/Tamahaq, the language is called Tamasheq by western Tuareg in Mali, Tamahaq among Algerian and Libyan Tuareg, and Tamajaq in the Azawagh and Aïr regions, Niger.

French missionary Charles de Foucauld famously compiled a dictionary of the Tuareg.


Tuaregs in prayer.
Further information: Berber mythology

Islam came in with the Umayyads and the Tuareg quickly adopted Islam and traveled south harmonizing their animistic beliefs with Islam. Tuaregs also helped spread Islam further into Sub Saharan Africa mainly due to their trading expeditions.[43]


Tuareg Blacksmith

Much Tuareg art is in the form of jewelry, leather and metal saddle decorations called trik, and finely crafted swords. The Inadan community makes traditional handicrafts. Among their products are tanaghilt or zakkat (the 'Agadez Cross' or 'Croix d'Agadez'); the Tuareg sword (Takoba), many gold and silver-made necklaces called 'Takaza'; and earrings called 'Tizabaten'. Pilgrimage boxes have intricate iron and brass decorations, and are used for carrying items.


The clear desert skies allowed the Tuareg to be keen observers. Tuareg celestial objects include:

  • Azzag Willi (Venus), which indicates the time for milking the goats
  • Shet Ahad (Pleiades), the seven sisters of the night
  • Amanar (Orion), the warrior of the desert
  • Talemt (Ursa Major), the she-camel wakes up
  • Awara (Ursa Minor), the baby camel goes to sleep

Nomadic architecture

While living quarters are progressively changing to adapt to a more sedentary lifestyle, Tuareg groups are well known for their nomadic architecture (tents). There are several documented styles, some covered with animal skin, some with mats. The style tends to vary by location or subgroup.[44] Because the tent is considered to be under the ownership of a married woman (and significantly, built during the marriage ceremony), sedentary dwellings generally belong to men, reflecting a patriarchal shift in power dynamics. Current documentation suggests a negotiation of common practice in which a woman's tent is set up in the courtyard of her husband's house.[45]

An old legend says the Tuareg once lived in grottoes, akazam, and they lived in foliage beds on the top acacia trees, tasagesaget,.

Other kinds of traditional housing include:

  • ahaket: Tuareg goatskin red tent
  • tafala: a shade made of millet sticks
  • akarban also called takabart: temporary hut for winter
  • ategham: summer hut
  • taghazamt: adobe house for long stay
  • ahaket: a dome-shaped house made of mats for the dry season and square shaped roof with holes to prevent hot air

Traditional weapons

  • takoba: 1 meter long straight sword
  • allagh: 2 meter long lance
  • agher: 1.50 meter high shield
  • tagheda: small and sharp assegai
  • taganze: leather covered-wooden bow
  • amur: wooden arrow
  • sheru: long dagger
  • tellak: short dagger kept in a sheath attached to the left forearm.
  • taburek: wooden stick
  • alakkud or abartak: riding crop

In 2007, Stanford's Cantor Arts Center opened an exhibition, "Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World", the first such exhibit in the United States. It was curated by Tom Seligman, director of the center. He had first spent time with the Tuareg in 1971 when he traveled through the Sahara after serving in the Peace Corps. The exhibition included crafted and adorned functional objects such as camel saddles, tents, bags, swords, amulets, cushions, dresses, earrings, spoons and drums.[46] The exhibition also was shown at the University of California, Los Angeles Fowler Museum in Los Angeles and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Throughout history, the Tuareg were renowned and respected warriors. Their decline as a military might came with the introduction of firearms, weapons which the Tuareg did not possess. The Tuareg warrior equipment consisted of a takoba (sword), allagh (lance) and aghar (shield) made of antelope's skin.


Further information: Berber music

Traditional Tuareg music has two major components: the monochord violin anzad played often during night parties and a small tambour covered with goatskin called tende, performed during camel and horse races, and other festivities. Traditional songs called Asak and Tisiway (poems) are sung by women and men during feasts and social occasions. Another popular Tuareg musical genre is takamba, characteristic for its Afro percussions.

Vocal music

  • tisiway: poems
  • tasikisikit: songs performed by women, accompanied by tende, men on camel back turn around
  • asak: songs accompanied by anzad monocord violin.
  • tahengemmit: slow songs sung by elder men
Tinariwen (Tuareg band) from Mali, taken at the Nice Jazz Festival in France

Children and youth music

Tuareg singer Athmane Bali from Djanet, Algeria
  • Bellulla songs made by children playing with the lips
  • Fadangama small monocord instrument for children
  • Odili flute made from trunk of sorghum
  • Gidga small wooden instrument with irons sticks to make strident sounds


  • tagest: dance made while seated, moving the head, the hands and the shoulders.
  • ewegh: strong dance performed by men, in couples and groups.
  • agabas: dance for modern ishumar guitars: women and men in groups.

In the 1980s rebel fighters founded Tinariwen, a Tuareg band that fuses electric guitars and indigenous musical styles. Tinariwen is one of the best known and authentic Tuareg bands. Especially in areas that were cut off during the Tuareg rebellion (e.g., Adrar des Iforas), they were practically the only music available, which made them locally famous and their songs/lyrics (e.g. Abaraybone, ...) are well known by the locals. They released their first CD in 2000, and toured in Europe and the United States in 2004. Tuareg guitar groups that followed in their path include Group Inerane and Group Bombino. The Niger-based band Etran Finatawa combines Tuareg and Wodaabe members, playing a combination of traditional instruments and electric guitars.

Many music groups emerged after the 1980s cultural revival. Among the Tartit, Imaran and known artists are: Abdallah Oumbadougou from Ayr, Baly Othmany of Djanet.

Music genres, groups and artists

Traditional music

  • Majila Ag Khamed Ahmad, singer Asak (vocal music), of Aduk, Niger
  • Almuntaha female Anzad (Tuareg violin) player, of Aduk, Niger
  • Ajju female Anzad (Tuareg violin) player, of Agadez, Niger
  • Islaman singer, genre Asak (vocal music), of Abalagh, Niger
  • Tambatan singer, genre Asak (vocal music), Tchin-Tabaraden, Niger
  • Alghadawiat female Anzad (Tuareg violin) player, of Akoubounou, Niger
  • Taghdu female Anzad (Tuareg violin) player, of Aduk, Niger

Ishumar music or Teshumara music style

  • In Tayaden singer and guitar player, Adagh
  • Abareybon singer and guitar player, Tinariwen group, Adagh
  • Kiddu Ag Hossad singer and guitar player, Adagh
  • Baly Othmani singer, luth player, Djanet, Azjar
  • Abdalla Ag Umbadugu, singer, Takrist N'Akal group, Ayr
  • Hasso Ag Akotey, singer, Ayr

Music and culture festivals

Tuareg celebration in Sbiba. Most of the men are wielding the takouba, the Tuareg sword.
Tuaregs at the January 2012 Festival au Désert in Timbuktu, just before the MNLA launched the Azawadi rebellion later in the same month.

The Desert Festival in Mali's Timbuktu provides one opportunity to see Tuareg culture and dance and hear their music. Other festivals include:


The first Tuareg feature film, Akounak Teggdalit Taha Tazoughai, is being released in 2014 and stars the musician Mdou Moctar.[47][48][49][50]


Tuareg traditional games and plays include:

  • Tiddas, played with small stones and sticks.
  • Kelmutan: consists of singing and touching each person's leg, where the ends, that person is out: the last person loses the game.
  • Temse: comic game try to make the other team laugh and you win.
  • Izagag, played with small stones or dried fruits.
  • Iswa, played by picking up stones while throwing another stone.
  • Melghas, children hide themselves and another tries to find and touch them before they reach the well and drink.
  • Tabillant, traditional Tuareg wrestling
  • Alamom, wrestling while running
  • Solagh, another type of wrestling
  • Tammazaga or Tammalagha, race on camel back
  • Takket, singing and playing all night.
  • Sellenduq one person to be a jackal and try to touch the others who escape running (tag).
  • Takadant, children try to imagine what the others are thinking.
  • Tabakoni: clown with a goatskin mask to amuse children.
  • Abarad Iqquran: small dressed wooden puppet that tells stories and makes people laugh.
  • Maja Gel Gel: one person tries to touch all people standing, to avoid this sit down.
  • Bellus: everyone runs not to be touched by the one who plays (tag).
  • Tamammalt: pass a burning stick, when its blown off in ones hands tells who's the lover.
  • Ideblan: game with girls, prepare food and go search for water and milk and fruits.
  • Seqqetu: play with girls to learn how to build tents, look after babies made of clay.
  • Mifa Mifa: beauty contest, girls and boys best dressed.
  • Taghmart: children pass from house to house singing to get presents: dates, sugar, etc.
  • Melan Melan: try to find a riddle
  • Tawaya: play with the round fruit calotropis or a piece of cloth.
  • Abanaban: try to find people while eyes are shut. (blind mans bluff)
  • Shishagheren, writing the name of one's lover to see if this person brings good luck.
  • Taqqanen, telling devinettes and enigmas.
  • Maru Maru, young people mime how the tribe works.


Tuareg selling crafts to tourists in the Hoggar (Algeria)

Tuareg are distinguished in their native language as the Imouhar, meaning the free people[citation needed]; the overlap of meaning has increased local cultural nationalism. Many Tuareg today are either settled agriculturalists or nomadic cattle breeders, though there are also blacksmiths and caravan leaders. The Tuareg are a pastoral people, having an economy based on livestock breeding, trading, and agriculture.[3]

Caravan Trade

Since Prehistoric times Tuareg peoples: the Garamantes have been organising caravans for trading across the Sahara desert. The caravan in Niger from around Agadez to Fachi and Bilma is called in Tamashek: Tarakaft or Taghlamt and the one in Mali from Timbuktu to Taoudenni Azalay.

These caravans used first oxen, horses and later camels as a means of transportation, here different types of caravans:

  • caravans transporting food: dates, millet, dried meat, dried Tuareg cheese, butter etc.
  • caravans transporting garments, alasho indigo turbans, leather products, ostrich feathers,
  • caravans transporting salt: salt caravans used for exchange against other products.
  • caravans transporting nothing but made to sell and buy camels.

Salt mines or salines in the desert.

Tuareg men in Niger

A contemporary variant is occurring in northern Niger, in a traditionally Tuareg territory that comprises most of the uranium-rich land of the country. The central government in Niamey has shown itself unwilling to cede control of the highly profitable mining to indigenous clans.[citation needed] The Tuareg are determined not to relinquish the prospect of substantial economic benefit. The French government has independently tried to defend a French firm, Areva, established in Niger for fifty years and now mining the massive Imouraren deposit.[citation needed]

Additional complaints against Areva are that it is: "...plundering...the natural resources and [draining] the fossil deposits. It is undoubtedly an ecological catastrophe".[51] These mines yield uranium ores, which are then processed to produce yellowcake, crucial to the nuclear power industry (as well as aspirational nuclear powers). In 2007, some Tuareg people in Niger allied themselves with the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), a rebel group operating in the north of the country. During 2004–2007, U.S. Special Forces teams trained Tuareg units of the Nigerien Army in the Sahel region as part of the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Some of these trainees are reported to have fought in the 2007 rebellion within the MNJ. The goal of these Tuareg appears to be economic and political control of ancestral lands, rather than operating from religious and political ideologies.[citation needed]

Despite the Sahara's erratic and unpredictable rainfall patterns, the Tuareg have managed to survive in the hostile desert environment for centuries. Over recent years however, depletion of water by the uranium exploitation process combined with the effects of climate change are threatening their ability to subsist. Uranium mining has diminished and degraded Tuareg grazing lands. Not only does the mining industry produce radioactive waste that can contaminate crucial sources of ground water resulting in cancer, stillbirths, and genetic defects but it also uses up huge quantities of water in a region where water is already scarce. This is exacerbated by the increased rate of desertification thought to be the result of global warming. Lack of water forces the Tuareg to compete with southern farming communities for scarce resources and this has led to tensions and clashes between these communities. The precise levels of environmental and social impact of the mining industry have proved difficult to monitor due to governmental obstruction.

In popular culture

  • The Tuareg are the antagonists of the French Foreign Legion in Percival Christopher Wren's 1924 adventure novel Beau Geste and the films that were based on it.
  • Spanish author Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa's novel Tuareg (1980) was his most critically and commercially successful, with global sales in excess of 5,000,000 copies. It was adapted into a 1984 movie starring Mark Harmon, Tuareg – The Desert Warrior.
  • The 2005 film Sahara featured a fictionalised group of Tuareg as a faction in a civil war underway in Mali.
  • Bruce Sterling used a fictionalised Tuareg tribe in his novel Islands in the Net.
  • David W. Ball's 1999 novel Empires of Sand tells the story of French and Tuareg cousins, depicting life among the Hoggar Tuareg.
  • French author J. M. G. Le Clézio's novel Desert tells of the last days of the Tuareg, the desert nomads known as the "Blue People".
  • In 2003 Volkswagen introduced a new SUV named the Touareg.
  • In the video game Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, Tuareg are available to the player as mercenary troops.
  • In the tabletop wargame Infinity players can field Tuareg units as scouts and infiltrators.
  • Tuareg characters feature in episodes of the third season of the Cinemax series Strike Back.
  • Emacs has a Tuareg-mode for editing OCaml files based on the pun, Caml and camel.[52]
  • Omara "Bombino" Moctar is an internationally acclaimed Tuareg guitarist and singer-songwriter from Agadez, Niger.
  • The Barclaycard advert from 1991, with Rowan Atkinson as MI6 agent Latham and his assistant Bough, is set in Saharan Africa and features the Tuareg people. Latham considers himself knowledgeable on ancient Tuareg culture, and rejects modern day payment card transactions and the accompanying insurance. He attempts to converse in Tuareg while negotiating for the purchase of a valuable rug in a market stall. Humorously, as he leaves the premises with the rolled-up rug balanced over one shoulder, the end swings over an open flame behind him causing it to set alight and, unaware of this, he walks away believing he is smelling Tuareg campfires.

Notable Tuareg


Y-chromosome DNA

Y-Dna haplogroups, passed on exclusively through the paternal line, were found at the following frequencies in Tuaregs:

Population Nb A/B E1b1a E-M35 E-M78 E-M81 E-M123 F K-M9 G I J1 J2 R1a R1b Other Study
1 Tuaregs from Libya 47 0 42.5% 0 0 48.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6.4% 2.1% Ottoni et al. (2011)[53]
2 Tuaregs from Mali 11 0 9.1% 0 9.1% 81.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Pereira et al. (2011)[54]
3 Tuaregs from Burkina Faso 18 0 16.7% 0 0 77.8% 0 0 5.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Pereira et al. (2011)
4 Tuaregs from Niger 18 5.6% 44.4% 0 5.6% 11.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 33.3% 0 Pereira et al. (2011)

E1b1b1b (E-M81), the major haplogroup in Tuaregs, is the most common Y chromosome haplogroup in North Africa, dominated by its sub-clade E-M183. It is thought to have originated in North Africa 5,600 years ago. The parent clade E1b1b originated in East Africa.[55][56] Colloquially referred to as the Berber marker for its prevalence among Mozabite, Middle Atlas, Kabyle people and other Berber groups, E-M81 is also predominant among other North African groups. It reaches frequencies of up to 100 percent in some parts of the Maghreb.

The other major haplogroup is E1b1a mainly found in Sub-Saharan Africa.


While Tuaregs, like most berbers, have a predominantly African paternal Y DNA, the Libyan Tuareg have a predominantly Eurasian maternal mtDNA. In a 2009 article by Claudio Ottoni in the Annals of Human Genetics entitled First Genetic Insight into Libyan Tuaregs: A Maternal Perspective[57] reported:

The maternal genetic pool of the Libyan Tuaregs is characterized by a major “European” component shared with the Berbers that could be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a minor ‘south Saharan’ contribution possibly linked to both Eastern African and Near Eastern populations.

"The mtDNA analysis helped to characterize the Libyan Tuaregs as a mixed group in which two main components are present. A European component, marked by haplogroups H1 and V, is strongly predominant and is shared with some Berber groups and other north African populations as well. Also present is a typically south Saharan component that shows a genetic relationship with Eastern African populations. The L2a1 and L0a1a lineages could be related to the movement of people from Eastern Africa approximately 15,000 years ago and subsequently via the Near East during pastoral movements." "Of note is that the other Tuareg sample described in the literature (Watson et al., 1996) (Western Tuaregs) did not show a close genetic relationship with the Libyan Tuaregs, implying a genetic heterogeneity of the Tuaregs. This difference appears to be primarily caused by the low frequency (8%) of the European component in the Western Tuaregs, characteristic of northern African populations. After the removal of the H and V haplotypes, the Libyan Tuaregs showed a strong affiliation with the Eastern populations, while the Western Tuaregs associated more with the Central and Western African populations" In a later 2010 article also by Ottoni entitled Mitochondria Haplogroup H1 in North Africa: An Early Holocene Arrival from Iberia [58] the very high frequencies of Haplogroup H1 in Libyan Tuaregs (61%) although at very low diversity indicating the founder effect. Haplogroup H1 is a predominantly European haplogroup believed to have originated in the Near East 20,000-25,000 years ago reaching Europe before the last ice age (LGM). Anatolia, now in the Turkish region is where the highest diversity of H1 is found. H1 is also found in the Western Tuaregs at 23.3% as well as in other berber populations. It is common all over Europe particularly in Southern Europe, highest frequencies in Spanish Basques 27.8%. Ottoni explains the high frequencies in Libyan Tuaregs: "The Tuareg of the Fezzan region (Libya) are characterized by an extremely high frequency (61%) of haplogroup H1, a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup that is common in all Western European populations. To define how and when H1 spread from Europe to North Africa up to the Central Sahara, in Fezzan, we investigated the complete mitochondrial genomes of eleven Libyan Tuareg belonging to H1. Coalescence time estimates suggest an arrival of the European H1 mtDNAs at about 8,000–9,000 years ago, while phylogenetic analyses reveal three novel H1 branches, termed H1v, H1w and H1x, which appear to be specific for North African populations, but whose frequencies can be extremely different even in relatively close Tuareg villages. Overall, these findings support the scenario of an arrival of haplogroup H1 in North Africa from Iberia at the beginning of the Holocene, as a consequence of the improvement in climate conditions after the Younger Dryas cold snap, followed by in situ formation of local H1 sub-haplogroups. This process of autochthonous differentiation continues in the Libyan Tuareg who, probably due to isolation and recent founder events, are characterized by village-specific maternal mtDNA lineages."


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  • Ghoubeid Alojaly, Karl Prasse, Ghabdouane Mohamed, Dictionnaire touareg-français, Copenhague, Museum Tusculanum, 2003 (2 vols., 1031 p.) - ISBN 87-7289-844-5
  • Francis James Rennell Rodd, People of the veil. Being an account of the habits, organisation and history of the wandering Tuareg tribes which inhabit the mountains of Aïr or Asben in the Central Sahara, London, MacMillan & Co., 1926 (repr. Oosterhout, N.B., Anthropological Publications, 1966)
  • Heath Jeffrey 2005: A Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali). New York: Mouton de Gruyer. Mouton Grammar Library, 35. ISBN 3-11-018484-2
  • Hourst, Lieutenant (1898) (translated from the French by Mrs. Arthur Bell) French Enterprise in Africa: The Exploration of the Niger. Chapman Hall, London.
  • Prasse, Karl-G (1995) The Tuaregs: The Blue People., Museum Tusculanum Press.
  • Rando et al. (1998) "Mitochondrial DNA analysis of northwest African populations reveals genetic exchanges with European, near-eastern, and sub-Saharan populations". Annals of Human Genetics 62(6): 531-50; Watson et al. (1996) mtDNA sequence diversity in Africa. American Journal of Human Genetics 59(2): 437–44; Salas et al. (2002) "The Making of the African mtDNA Landscape". American Journal of Human Genetics 71: 1082–1111. These are good sources for information on the genetic heritage of the Tuareg and their relatedness to other populations.

Further reading

  • Edmond Bernus, "Les Touareg", pp. 162–171 in Vallées du Niger, Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993.
  • Andre Bourgeot, Les Sociétés Touarègues, Nomadisme, Identité, Résistances, Paris: Karthala, 1995.
  • Hélène Claudot-Hawad, ed., "Touregs: Exil et Résistance". Révue du Monde Musulman et de la Méiterranée, No. 57, Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1991.
  • Claudot-Hawad, Touaregs, Portrait en Fragments, Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1993.
  • Hélène Claudot-Hawad and Hawad, "Touaregs: Voix Solitaires sous l'Horizon Confisque", Ethnies-Documents No. 20-21, Hiver, 1996.
  • Mano Dayak, Touareg: La Tragedie, Paris: Éditions Lattes, 1992.
  • Sylvie Ramir, Les Pistes de l'Oubli: Touaregs au Niger, Paris: éditions du Felin, 1991.

External links